Sometime in the year 1698, members of the Manahoac Tribe and the Colonial settlers of “Leaseland”—the area that would become Fredericksburg—met in what is now Spotsylvania County to trade produce and fur for English-bred hunting dogs.
Trade of this kind had been banned in the colonies since 1617. But in 1677, the Virginia House of Burgesses passed an act establishing a “marte,” which could be held for several days each year and would allow for trade of hunting dogs and livestock between settlers and Native Americans.
Three hundred and twenty- one years later, the Fredericksburg Dog Mart is still being held in Spotsylvania County. Though it hasn’t been held every single year since 1698, it is still considered the oldest dog event in the U.S.
“We strive to maintain its historical nature and carry on tradition,” said Darrell Schultz, the event’s manager and coordinator. “We’re not trying to make a huge profit.”
The colonial Dog Mart was held annually until the start of the Revolutionary War. After a lengthy break of two centuries, it was revived in 1927 and held in downtown Fredericksburg in October, giving hunters a chance to buy and sell dogs for that years’ sport.
The Fredericksburg–Rappahannock Chapter of the Izaak Walton League of America took over running the Dog Mart in 1947.
It was held at the Maury School stadium, and started attracting tens of thousands of participants and attendees, and nationwide attention. It was the subject of a Pathé Newsreel feature and articles in Time and National Geographic magazines.
A movie from the late 1940s shows the event being preceded by a parade down Caroline Street, complete with a marching band, twirling drum majorettes, floats and children walking their prized pups.
There were dog shows and dog agility displays, but the main focus was still the buying and selling of hunting dogs, Schultz said.
In the 1970s, the Dog Mart moved to the Izaak Walton League’s chapter grounds in Spotsylvania and interest began to wane.
“It started declining in the 1970s and ’80s,” Schultz said. “Not as many people were hunting.”
Schultz moved to the area in 1983 and said he never heard about the Dog Mart until he joined the local Izaak Walton League chapter about 10 years ago.
He attended his first Dog Mart that year and had some ideas about how to improve attendance, by shifting the focus from buying and selling to celebrating dogs in a fun, affordable, family-friendly environment.
“There are very few places you can go and have a fun day out with the family and the family dog for $5 a car,” he said.
Schultz has been coordinating the Dog Mart for eight years now. These days, the event includes rescue and K–9 dog demonstrations, a dog show judged by an American Kennel Club judge, a bounce house, a barrel train, representatives from local animal rescue groups, representatives from the Manahoac tribe, colonial reenactors, a cat and dog food drive for the local SPCA—and whatever else Schultz wants to try that year.
“You never know what’s going to be there,” he said with a laugh.
Everything except food is free after the $5 parking fee.
Schultz said the Dog Mart has survived for so long thanks to the dedication of his predecessor, former Izaak Walton League president and retired federal game warden Darrell Ferrell, who presided over the event for years and died in 2018.
Schultz said his goal for the event now is to continue increasing its visibility and attendance.
“Every year, people come and say, ‘I didn’t know this is still happening,’ ” Schultz said. “And 90 to 100 of them say how great it is for the price.”
This year’s mart is scheduled for Sept. 28. For details, visit fredericksburgdogmart.com.